For our 142nd and final Session, our host is Stan Hieronymus, who founded the Session, and writes the Appellation Beer Blog. I could think of no better person than the man who started it all with the first Session back in March of 2007. For Stan’s topic this month, he’s chosen One More For the Road, which he sums up as going out with a bang, um … I mean beer; going out with a beer. So what beer would you choose? If you only have one to pick — and you do — what would it be? How would (will) you decide? You only have one more beer to drink, make it count.
Here are Stan’s simple instructions, in full:
When Jay Brooks and I exchanged emails about the topic this month I flippantly suggested “Funeral Beers” [which] seemed appropriate. You can call it “Last Beers” if you’d rather not think about how your friends might toast you when you no longer are participating. Or “One more for the road”* because that has a soundtrack.
Pick a beer for the end of a life, an end of a meal, an end of a day, an end of a relationship. So happy or sad, or something between. Write about the beer. Write about the aroma, the flavor, and write about what you feel when it is gone.
For me, it’s the end of The Session itself, a bittersweet event because I’ve been helping to shepherd the project almost since its beginning and feel a deep sense of loss over its conclusion. That’s despite the fact that I also helped pull the plug, but because the writing was (or in this case no longer was) on the wall and it seemed to have run its course. But that didn’t make it any easier to decide. I think it was the right thing to do, but I’m still sad about it. So what beer did I decide to mark the last Session? I opened one of our garage refrigerators and looked for something appropriate, finally settling on something sour to match my mood. It’s one of my favorite beers, one of the early sour beers I really fell in love with, and over the years I’ve been surprised to learn that not many people love it as much as I do — finding it okay, or good, but not great. I think they’re wrong, but hey, tastes are somewhat individual. Plus, I think it just occupies a special place in my heart because it was one of the first sour beers I loved. I’m talking about Duchesse de Bourgogne, a West-Flemish red brown ale brewed by Brouwerij Verhaeghe, in Vichte, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
I don’t actually remember when or where I first tried Duchesse de Bourgogne, but I know I was immediately smitten. I remember how vinegary it was, especially in the aroma, but also the sweetness and malt character, with loads of fruit, how heavy on the tongue, the weight of it on my mouth. And ultimately, how satisfying it felt to drink it.
This is the brewery’s description of their beer:
“Duchesse de Bourgogne” is an ale of mixed fermentation. It is a sweet-fruity ale with a pleasant fresh aftertaste. This ale is brewed with roasted malts and with hops with a low bitterness. After the main fermentation and the lagering, the “Duchesse de Bourgogne” matures further for many months in oak casks. The tannins in the oak give the “Duchesse de Bourgogne” its fruity character. “Duchesse de Bourgogne” has a full, sweet and fresh taste: it is a ruby red jewel of 6.2 % alc. vol., that best is served in a chalice-shaped glass between 8 and 12°C. A perfect beer.
And this is how it’s described on Wikipedia:
Duchesse de Bourgogne is a Flanders red ale-style beer produced by Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Vichte, Belgium. After a primary and secondary fermentation, this ale is matured in oak barrels for 18 months. The final product is a blend of a younger 8-month-old beer with an 18-month-old beer. The name of the beer is meant to honour Duchess Mary of Burgundy, the only daughter of Charles the Bold. She was born in Brussels in 1457, and died in a horse riding accident. Like all Flemish red ales, Duchesse de Bourgogne has a characteristically sour, fruity flavour similar to that of lambic beers.
The beer, of course, was named for Mary of Burgundy. Several years ago, I wrote this about Mary:
Beer aside, the history of the Duchesse is fascinating. Her anglicized name was Mary of Burgundy, though she was born in Brussels on February 13, 1457, the only child of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Isabella of Bourbon. Needless to say she was quite a catch, especially after her father died in battle (at the siege of Nancy, not a particularly awful sounding name) in 1477, when she was nineteen. Louis XI of France tried to take Burgundy and the Low Countries for himself but was frustrated when Mary signed the “Great Privilege,” by which she gave Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, and all of Holland autonomous rule (leaving for herself the remainder of the Low Countries, Artois, Luxembourg, and Franche-Comté). She then married Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who was later the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and part of the Hapsburg Austrian dynasty. This sparked a long-standing dispute over the Low Countries between France and the Hapsburg family.
One of Mary’s favorite hobbies was falconing, which was popular among royals in the day. Falconry is basically training and hunting using a falcon. While engaged in this pursuit, in 1482, Mary’s horse tripped, tossing her onto the ground where the horse then landed on top of her, breaking her back. A few days later she died. Mary was only 25. The beer label’s portrait pays homage to her love of falconry and her ultimate death because of it.
Her young son Philip became heir after her death, though Maximilian was in charge until he reached adulthood. King Louis forced Maximilian to sign the Treaty of Arras the same year, and it gave Franche Comté and Artois to France. But Philip was a virtual prisoner until 1485, and then it took Max another eight years to take back control of their lands in the Low Countries. The Treaty of Senlis, in 1493, finally established peace in the area, but Burgundy and Picardy remained French.
So during her short life, Mary had such great impact on European politics that they can be felt even now in the present. So it’s quite appropriate that she have so wonderful a beer that bears her name and her portrait. It’s a fitting legacy.
Unfortunately, I don’t drink it all the time, just once in a while. Maybe I don’t want to ruin the experience by drinking it every day, or even once a week. As a once in a while beer, it stays special, every time. I usually try to keep a bottle in the ‘frig at all times, so when I want one, it’s already there, waiting for me. But it has been almost a year, maybe longer, since I’d cracked open a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne. I was looking forward to it, but also I always wonder how it will taste this time, will it taste the same? As good as I remember it? But it’s always an adventure.
So how did this bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne fare? After a long week, driving half a high school basketball team back and forth to another town, an hour away, four days in a row, then scoring each game, plus trying to do all of my other work took its toll. Finally, Sunday came, a day of rest … eventually. The Packers actually won for a change, which certainly improved my mood. By nightfall, it was quiet enough to open a bottle and spend some time with it. So I opened the cage, popped the cork, and poured a glass of Duchesse de Bourgogne. I let Sarah nose it, and she predictably hated it. She loves most beer, but has never warmed to sour beers in any way, although she loves Kombucha. I hate sour foods, but love it in beer. People certainly don’t make sense. I’m living proof of that.
But I loved the nose. A little less vinegar than I remembered from before, but still there, and still loads of fruit; plums, cherries, maybe burgundy. But it’s the flavors I really respond to, it’s just thick and chewy; lays on my tongue like a weight, until swallowed. I like to let it sit there, roll it around, keep the flavors assaulting my taste buds until they start to dissipate, like chewing gum you’ve been chewing for too long. Then flush it down my throat, feel the sourness burn all the way down, as it evaporates on my tongue, preparing the way for another sip. I love this beer. I remember why as that second sip repeats the first, as complex flavors abound, with vinous notes, wood, dark fruit, figs, tart cherries, a smidge of vanilla, port wine, both sweet and sour dancing together. This is a beer that ideally you should take as long as possible to finish, it should not be hurried. It changes as it warms, which adds yet another element to the experience, so it’s not quite the same beer it was in the first few sips as it is when you drain the last remnants of the bottle. And when it’s empty, I’m a little sad, which is how I feel about the Session ending, too. So for this Session, it’s perfect. A perfect beer, a perfect end.
So that’s it. It’s been great fun, a great run. 142 Sessions over 11+ years. Thanks to everybody who hosted and everybody who participated, and especially Stan. Thanks, Stan.